What's Next for Tony Stewart If His Dismal Season Does Not Improve?
As it stands now, Tony Stewart will be in the Chase. If he can manage to hold onto his position as the regular season comes to an end, Smoke would get the chance to have an impact in the postseason.
That's easier said than done for Stewart, though. He's had a horrible season, and outside of his one win at Dover, he hasn't done much of anything.
If he does make it into the Chase, what will Smoke be able to do?
Would we see another Stewart run like we did in 2011? Or will he continue to struggle?
If Stewart and the No. 14 team manage to make it into the postseason, they need to figure out where they are making mistakes, and quickly.
He is the kind of driver who puts everything on the line, but with the struggles Stewart-Haas Racing has been going through, Smoke might not have the tools he needs to get the job done.
And if he continues to struggle and fails to improve, it will be time for Stewart to make changes.
Into the Postseason
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Regardless of whether he makes the Chase, or gets knocked out by someone else, Stewart needs to go into the postseason with only one thing on his mind:
Of course Stewart is trying to win now, but with everything that comes with the new Gen-6 car, teams are still trying to get a feel for it, from the gas mileage to the tires.
Instead of worrying about what makes the Gen-6 tick and how to take advantage of it, Smoke needs to rearrange his priorities and go back to old-school racing.
If he makes it into the Chase, he would probably be at the bottom of the standings, so he has nothing to lose.
If he fails to make it into the Chase, the only way to gain any momentum moving into next season would be to win races.
If Tony can't start to turn his season around by the Chase, he needs to put everything else aside and just push for the win.
Focus on Driving
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It's not easy to be both a driver and an owner.
Yet Smoke has managed to have major success with both aspects of his career.
He won the championship in 2011 as an owner/driver and had a solid 2012 season as well.
However, as Stewart-Haas Racing gets bigger, Stewart needs to start thinking about a change. If he wants to stay a driver, he needs to focus more on the driving aspect and not worry about defending Danica in the media as an owner, like he did earlier this season.
He needs to worry about himself, but as an owner he has to worry about how well all of the Stewart-Haas Racing teams are performing.
Moving over into more of a driver role would help Stewart focus on himself and his team.
Shift Over to Owner
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Stewart doesn't come across as a driver who would be willing to make a full transition to owner, but if he continues to try to focus on his drivers, and himself as a driver, he could be spread too thin.
If Stewart can't turn his season around, he might come to an inevitable decision:
Continue on as a driver, or focus more on being an owner.
Will Smoke hang up his racing boots anytime soon? That seems highly unlikely, but he may want to concentrate on being more of an owner and less of a driver as the years move on.
His team isn't the only Stewart-Haas Racing team to struggle, and Smoke may need to step out of the driver’s seat to try to figure out what went wrong this season.
Goodbye, Steve Addington
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If Stewart can't turn his season around, it might be time for him and Steve Addington to part ways.
Addington seemed like a great addition to the No. 14 team last season, as Stewart started off the season extremely strong.
He would eventually fade, though, and fail to make a significant run in the Chase.
This season has been much worse for the duo. The team has not been a factor at all this year (besides being at the right place at the right time for the Dover win), and a big part of their struggles could be coming from Addington and Stewart not clicking.
As far as crew chiefs are concerned, Addington likes to play the conservative role, which might not mix well with Stewart's all-or-nothing style.
Regardless, if Stewart continues to have a horrible season, it's time for a switch at the crew chief position.
Hello, Greg Zipadelli
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Giving Addington the boot only solves half of the crew chief problem.
Bringing in Greg Zipadelli would solve the rest.
Zipadelli is the competition director at Stewart-Haas Racing, but more importantly, Zipadelli and Stewart have history together.
When the two were paired up at Joe Gibbs Racing, he helped Stewart win two championships—and he has won 34 races as a crew chief.
They work well together, and if Smoke continues to struggle in 2013 season, he should consider bringing Zipadelli on board as the new crew chief of the No. 14 team.
Rebuild the Pit Crew
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Changing his crew chief wouldn't be the only thing Stewart should consider if his season continues to be dismal.
One of Stewart's biggest flaws is the lack of speed from his pit crew.
When guys like Jimmie Johnson and Matt Kenseth are getting four tires and gas in about 12.5 seconds, and Stewart is getting the same thing but instead it takes 14.5 to 15 seconds, he's at a huge disadvantage.
He can go into the pits in good position and end up losing spots because of his pit crew.
If Stewart's pit crew continues to be lackluster, it's time for Smoke to rebuild and try to get a faster team for the 2014 season.
Make a Switch
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Stewart-Haas Racing gets its engines from Hendrick Motorsports.
Hendrick has four wins this year, while Stewart-Haas has just one.
For whatever reason, Hendrick has been able to run well with the new Gen-6 model car and the Chevy engines in them, while Stewart-Haas continues to struggle.
If Stewart-Haas Racing can't get the same results as Hendrick by the end of this season, it might be time to make a switch.
Hendrick Motorsports is the dominate Chevy manufacturer in NASCAR, but if there’s another way to bring in a different engine producer, Stewart-Haas may want to make a switch.
It could also make a manufacturer switch, but with Ford running poorly and Stewart leaving JGR after they made the switch to Toyota, switching manufacturers might not seem like the best choice right now.
If Ford can figure out its current issues, though, switching over might be something SHR should consider.
Improve on Weakness
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Another big weakness of Stewart this season has been his poor qualifying results.
Starting from the back end of the field is something Smoke has gotten used to, but it's changed his performance on the track.
Stewart needs to work on qualifying, so he can start closer to the front and get better position on pit road.
Smoke has an average starting position of 17th this year, and that puts him in a rough spot when he's surrounded by other drivers.
With more drivers around him during the race, he's more likely to end up in a wreck as he tries to push forward.
And a poor pit spot doesn't help him win any battles off of pit road, especially when his pit crew is already lackluster.
If Tony continues to struggle, improving his qualifying results should be a focus heading into next season.
Fighting for Sponsorship
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Stewart had a hard enough time finding sponsorship for the No. 39 car heading into 2013, and this was only a year after Smoke had won the championship and made SHR a championship organization.
His struggles this year might make it even harder to find enough sponsorship to support three cars.
Danica seems set in her Go Daddy sponsorship, but will there be enough for Kevin Harvick when he moves over and joins SHR?
If Stewart continues to have a bad season, he will have even more work ahead of him to try to keep enough sponsorship heading into 2014.
If he continues to struggle, Smoke needs to start preparing for the struggle of maintaining sponsorships.
Get Ready for 2014
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While Smoke will clearly have a lot of work to do if his dismal season continues, the next thing he needs to do is get ready for the 2014 season.
Smoke could put on a horrible performance for the rest of the year, but as a driver—and an owner—he needs to worry about improving and getting ready for the next season.
It wouldn't be like Stewart to struggle in 2013, and then to come back and have a bad 2014 year as well, so race fans should expect him to shake off this currently dismal season if it continues.
Of course, that's easier said than done, but if Stewart continues to have a bad year, his next move should be to figure out what went wrong this year and come back stronger in 2014.